Diggy Dupé (Photo: Simon Day; additional design: Tina Tiller)
Diggy Dupé (Photo: Simon Day; additional design: Tina Tiller)

ParrotdogMay 7, 2022

Birdseye View: Diggy Dupé on the proud Polynesian history of central Auckland

Diggy Dupé (Photo: Simon Day; additional design: Tina Tiller)
Diggy Dupé (Photo: Simon Day; additional design: Tina Tiller)

Tāmaki Makaurau rapper Diggy Dupé talks to Lana Lopesi about telling the Polynesian stories of the inner city. 

To celebrate 10 years of Parrotdog, The Spinoff is partnering with the brewery to share the stories of New Zealanders doing great things. In the first series of Birdseye View, we’re interviewing 10 interesting Aucklanders about their relationship with the city and how it shapes their lives.

Diggy Dupé is already in holiday mode when he ambles down the path to Home Reserve with his constant sidekick Kazu, a brown and white husky. It’s early December when we meet, and he’s relaxing into some forced time off.

If it was any other year, the 30-year-old rapper would be rehearsing for the summer run, a big season in any musician’s calendar, and when many artists make most of their money for the year. But the pandemic has already done a number on the summer festival season – so he’s chilling instead.

Despite his calm facade, Dupé in a transitional period of his career – turning music from his side hustle into his main gig. Last year he wrote his first album, That’s Me, That’s Team, while also working 60-hour weeks.

Home Reserve is a small oasis in the increasingly developed inner city suburb of Arch Hill, just across Great North Rd from Grey Lynn. Central Auckland is at the heart of Dupé’s world and music – this is where he grew up, and his family still lives nearby. But he hasn’t been here in a while and is interested to scope out the recent $383,000 upgrades, including a revived basketball court, new playground and mural. 

This shiny new park is nothing like how he remembers it. Home Reserve was a second backyard for Dupé, who grew up just a 30-second walk down the street and would meet his cousins on the basketball court most days – even though it was usually overgrown with trees. But it’s not just the reserve that’s changed. This whole area is vastly different to when his family first arrived.

Diggy Dupé and Kazu at Home Reserve. (Photo: Petra Leary)

Dupé’s grandfather immigrated to Aotearoa from Niue in 1953, and moved into the house near Home Reserve shortly after that. Like so many Pacific families, central Auckland became home. 

For the Polynesian communities forged here, the neighbourhood became a part of their identity. OG families created “social webs” like a string board over the central suburbs. The Pacific families that remain in central know intimately the Pacific story of the inner city, but it’s a story that’s often forgotten as the city grows and its demographics change.

“When we were growing up, the media so heavily attached Pacific Islanders to south-side,” Dupé says. “They never told us that the Pacific Islander community in central was so strong. I didn’t even realise that when I was growing up.” 

As a kid, Dupé remembers growing up traversing the many neighbourhoods of central Auckland. The identity that comes with those individual suburbs is an important distinction to the common perception of the area as one homogenous place. While his neighbourhood was Arch Hill, his cousins lived on the other side of the motorway in Eden Terrace, coming together for school and sports. Dupé describes them as “family kingdoms” throughout the neighbourhood. 

“You can pinpoint all the kingdoms, because of where the family house is. When people say the world’s so small, like bro, central’s small.”

A Kid of the Inner City (Photo: Simon Day)

The 50th anniversary of the Polynesian Panthers and the Dawn Raids apology helped bring central Auckland’s Pacific stories back into Aotearoa’s collective memory last year. But for Pacific families who’ve been living in central Auckland for generations, those memories never faded. It’s this worldview that informs how Dupé presents his music. 

“The Polynesian story of this area is almost forgotten, but we’re out here trying to keep that energy alive,” he says. “Central Auckland is a Polynesian area, it’s the motherland. For generations they’ve tried to push us out, but we’re still here.” 

Dupé’s work is guided by a commitment to reclaiming that history for the communities that remain, but also for the ones which are currently being pushed from the central suburbs. His debut EP, K.O.T.I.C (Kids Of The Inner City) is dedicated to telling the stories of growing up young and brown in central Auckland. His second EP Island Time, released a year later, is smooth and summery and moves between youthful breeziness and the politics of migration and the gentrification of central Auckland. On his first full length album released last year, That’s Me, That’s Team, he’s representing his whānau – both his direct family and his squad – and the impact and influence they have on him. 

His music is part celebration of Pacific Island culture, part political reclamation of the neighbourhood that’s so important to his family’s identity. It’s vivid, passionate and personal, a glimpse into his life growing up in central and a look back into the life of his grandfather growing up in the same place, wrapping social commentary within vignettes of his everyday life. His sense of humour is palpable, and so is the sense of responsibility to preserve the stories of his community. 

Dupé’s skill at capturing the stories of Pacific life in Auckland made him an ideal choice to create the original soundtrack for The Panthers, alongside producer Choicevaughn and 2020 Taite Prize winner Troy Kingi. The six-part TV dramatisation which screened on TVNZ last year told the story of the Polynesian Panthers’ social justice movement that rose out of the racial targeting of Pacific families by the government and police in the 70s, also featured Dupé on screen as the show’s narrator.

“It was pretty big for me personally,” he says of his involvement in the show. “Besides the platform or the exposure, more on the personal vibe, because I’m from here.”

The refurbished stomping ground of Dupé and his cousins. (Photo: Simon Day)

Creating the soundtrack gave Dupé a chance to delve into the Polynesian history of central Auckland before his own time, and connect with family members who were around at the time of the dawn raids. Dupé surprised his family, not letting anyone in on the work he was doing for the show. Instead, they watched it as it was airing on TV. It resurrected previously unspoken memories for elder family members, Dupé says. 

“It was cool, because I’d go back up the road to my family house and talk to my uncles. My dad’s brother – the oldest – he was the same age as Che Fu’s dad [Tigilau Ness, one of the most well known Panthers], so they all went to school together,” he says.

“My uncle was on the other side of it, he was more concerned about feeding his family. Which is fair enough, like bro you don’t even know what’s gonna happen next week, I gotta get this money to feed my family.”

While speaking to the history of the place in the soundtrack, Dupé includes memories of his own childhood, playing for the City Newton rugby league team and hanging out with his cousins. They’re signposts of his own Niuean central-kid story. Nuggets for other kids of the inner city to understand their place in history. 

“I put all these little easter eggs in every song about things that are so Grey Lynn, that you would only know if you walk through it, or you can smell it. Like you can close your eyes and listen to it and you’re just right there at the shops.”

A birdseye view of Home Reserve (Photo: Petra Leary)

Home Reserve is now nestled among multi-million dollar homes. The glare of gentrification is blinding in these neighbourhoods. Dupé looks at the houses around us and remembers those who once lived there.

​​“Sometimes I go past and think, I know that house, I’ve been inside it, I have childhood memories in that house, and now it’s kind of being wiped away,” he says. “There’s a sense that the guys who are now 20, 21 [growing up here] are the ‘last of the last’.”

We watch the finishing touches of the latest renovation on a Home Street house as we talk. The process is nothing new for Dupé. 

“We’ve been getting gentrified for decades – motherfuckers,” he says. “Now, Māngere is looking like Grey Lynn, looking like central. And it’s funny, all my people and all my family in Māngere are like ‘what is this?’ I’m like, ‘hey, welcome to the party, man. We’ve been going through this shit’.”

Dupé’s music is a resistance to the erasure of Pacific people from the city. It would be easy to feel angry about it, but he wants to channel that energy into action. He looks to the past to understand where he’s going. His work is about claiming space for Polynesian communities in the future of the city. 

“You can only look back for so long or you’ll just be lost, be in limbo. These guys [he points to the houses around us] are looking ahead 20 years in time. That’s the problem, we’ve got to think about how we’re gonna proceed. Because, man, we got to play catch up. We always played catch up right, but now it’s just at a quicker rate.”

A good dog (Photo: Simon Day)

The next time The Spinoff catches up with Dupé, summer has turned to Autumn, and he’s recovering from Covid. After the long delta lockdown followed by the omicron outbreak, restrictions have lasted longer than anyone expected. Dupé’s summer chill is replaced by frustration, even stress: Covid caused him to temporarily lose his voice. 

“I had a shit first three days man, shivers and all,” he explains. “I’m slowly getting back to it but I can feel the lungs having a hard time when I’m out running. Covid is no joke! I couldn’t get much work done besides writing. It was tough especially when I had recordings to do and people to talk to.” 

His lost voice is a fitting metaphor for how the music and entertainment industry has been bearing the impacts of Covid. The long suspension of live performances created uncertainty and stagnation for many artists, but now the schedules are starting to fill up again. In July, Dupé will be performing songs from The Panthers soundtrack as part of Elemental Nights, Auckland’s two-week winter music festival. 

Every morning Dupé wakes up, sits down with his cup of tea and writes. Routine is essential for his process and work ethic. There’s a sense of effortlessness to his music, but beneath the calm is fierce ambition, drive and an unrelenting commitment to being better. 

“I’ll write the quickest verse ever to any beat, or I might even write to nothing, but it’s more about the exercise and that muscle memory type thing. I’m not writing expecting it to be a masterpiece.” 

The exercise of writing daily is no different from an athlete training every morning, says Dupé. It’s about staying prepared and investing in the process.

“It’s boosting up one’s fitness and one’s stamina. When it comes to those times where I’m actually in the studio, and it’s like, alright, I have to make a song for this, it’s like yeah sweet, I’ve already been doing it, my hand knows how to write.” 

It’s been hard for artists to stay fit through the constant disruption of Covid-19. And what began as an opportunistic summer break for  Dupé evolved into restlessness. But he refuses to be locked down. 

“You can’t stay stagnant. Level up in life. I have set goals that I need to achieve, and to just make a shit ton of music.”

This content was created in paid partnership with Parrotdog.

To celebrate ten years of Parrotdog, The Spinoff is partnering with the brewery to share the stories of New Zealanders doing great things. 

In the first series of Birdseye View, we’re interviewing 10 interesting Aucklanders about their relationship with the city and how it shapes their lives.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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